Washington’s massive agriculture industry is critical to both the state’s economy and to the welfare of families across the country. Agriculture is one of the essential industries that continues to work even during Gov. Jay Inslee’s stay-at-home order to fight the coronavirus (COVID-19). Thousands of farm workers are on the job, and the season is just getting started.
Many farmworkers are among the state’s most vulnerable employees. The Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) issued specific coronavirus guidance for the agriculture industry, including a general fact sheet along with guidance specifically for agricultural warehouses and packing houses.
Agriculture safety and health requirements
The L&I guidance contains two types of information: specific requirements for employers to protect workers, and recommended strategies to help employers meet those requirements.
Employers are required to maintain social distancing or effective physical barriers; ensure adequate hand washing facilities and frequent employee hand washing; increase regular cleaning and sanitizing of common-touch surfaces; make sure sick employees stay home or go home, and to have procedures in place for workers to report a suspected or confirmed coronavirus case; and, educate workers about coronavirus and how to prevent transmission.
“Washington’s agricultural community is helping us all get through these trying times,” said Anne Soiza, assistant director in charge of L&I’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH). “Farmworkers are frontline heroes keeping food on the nation’s tables, and employers must do everything in their power to keep them safe and healthy on the job.”
Keeping workers safe
L&I’s coronavirus prevention guidance includes specific recommendations to help employers meet the requirements and keep employees safe and healthy. To help facilitate social distancing the agency recommends numerous steps, including staggering work shifts and tasks, providing two-way radios for workers to communicate without gathering in groups, and holding meetings and other gatherings outdoors to allow for more separation among workers.
Employers must require workers to wash hands frequently and effectively throughout the workday. They must confirm workers know the importance of how to wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, then dry hands with disposable paper towels and properly dispose of the towels. Portable hand washing stations are required in fields and must contain at least tepid water, liquid soap, disposable paper towels and a trash can.
Employers must have practices in place that ensure sick workers stay home or go home if they feel or look ill. Employers are required to have a process if a worker becomes ill while at work or outside of work so workers and supervisors know the appropriate actions to take. Jobsites must also have a process that includes immediate shutdown of areas where the employee was present, and must deep clean and sanitize all surfaces the worker touched prior to resuming work in that area.
These and other L&I coronavirus requirements and recommendations for agriculture and other industries are available on the L&I Division of Occupational Safety and Health coronavirus webpage.
Additional guidance coming
Along with this guidance for agriculture employers and workers, L&I is working on coronavirus guidance for agriculture temporary worker housing.
The nature of the outbreak changes daily and it’s important for the public and employers to stay on top of the most current information. L&I has launched a COVID-19 webpage with links to helpful information and resources. The department also recommends the federal OSHA workplace guidance to help employers prepare and deal with the outbreak.
The state coronavirus.wa.gov webpage has links to important information and guidance related to the pandemic from numerous state agencies.
Information is the best resource to keep workers and the public as safe as possible. L&I is urging employers to stay informed and to take all measures necessary to keep Washington workers safe and healthy.